Using a Startup Model to Bring Healthcare to Low-income Earners in Kenya

Penda Health, a healthcare social enterprise in Nairobi, Kenya, is bringing affordable medical services to low-income families via out-of-the-box thinking and mobile banking.

Autor*in Anna Rees, 03.10.16

Penda Health, a healthcare social enterprise in Nairobi, Kenya, is bringing affordable medical services to low-income families via out-of-the-box thinking and mobile banking.

One of the biggest roadblocks to seeking medical treatment in Kenya is cost. The sector is primarily funded by out-of-pocket payments as well as public funds and charitable donations. A study from 2011 that looked at equity opportunities in the Kenyan health system found that the sector is underfunded and healthcare contributions are not scaled, meaning the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on health services than higher-income earners do. According to the World Bank, only 20 per cent of the country’s residents are able to access some form of healthcare and every year, “…nearly one million Kenyans fall below the poverty line because of healthcare related expenditures”. 

Gaining access to good healthcare can be difficult for women in Kenya, especially when it comes to sexual health and family planning – taboos and stigma can deter some women from seeking advice or treatment while, for others, the costs are simply too high. Geographic location can also impede a person’s ability to access proper medical treatment.

The brainchild of two social entrepreneurs, Penda Health was brought to life in 2011 to provide affordable and, importantly, judgement-free healthcare for outpatients (in areas like preventative medicine, dental care and breast and cervical cancer screenings) and family planning services to low-income earners in Kenya. In order to achieve this goal, the team provides its services at lower-than-average rates (sometimes offering even further discounts on these and, occasionally, consultations that are free) and allows patients to pay via the local, popular mobile banking platform MPESA. Alternatively, they can pay a small yearly membership (around 35 USD) and have access to Penda’s full services for a year. Founders Nicholas Sowden and Stephanie Koczela apply business thinking to their model, having sought investors early on and devising a plan for the initiative to become financially self-sustainable via patient payments rather than relying solely on charitable donations.

The first clinic opened in early 2012, seeing 400 patients in its first three months of operation alone and over 6,500 patients in its first year. Penda Health currently runs two clinics in Nairobi that are open 12 hours a day and are staffed by nurses, administrative personnel and clinical and medical officers, attending to around 25,000 patients a year. The team also sends out mobile clinics to more rural areas and conducts regular healthcare education activities in local communities.

Penda Health has big plans for expansion, looking to make seeking treatment as convenient as possible by adding 20 more clinics throughout Nairobi and surrounds over the next three years or in the words of Nicholas Sowden “putting every Nairobian within one matatu stop of a Penda Medical Centre”.

Head to Penda Health’s website for more information or check out their Facebook page for updates.

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